With a field of 68 teams, there are bound to be a wide variety of favorites selected as national champions. Beloved picks like Duke, North Carolina, Kentucky, Michigan State, and Gonzaga all fell short. Virginia, one of those favorites (4th most popular, taken by about 8.5% of fans as champions), was able to see their way into the finale after escaping the south region. Texas Tech, an outsider to the world of favorites, was only selected to be champions in 0.9% of all brackets. The #3 seed from the West had plenty of battles to face knocking off the top two seeds in their own region. A Virginia vs. Texas Tech showdown promises plenty of phenomenal matchups and storylines. Let’s jump into the stats and who has the edge in each key category.
Scoring Defense: Virginia (55.5 PPG Allowed) EDGE OVER Texas Tech (58.8 PPG Allowed)
Both Texas Tech and Virginia pride themselves on their defensive prowess. Virginia edges out Texas Tech by a slight margin and are the best team in the country in the category. Virginia suffocates the paint and plays tremendous help defense. Mamadi Diakite was a force defensively for Virginia against Auburn totaling 5 blocks. Texas Tech also plays defense effectively like an organized unit. They collectively held a very unique Michigan State offense to just 21 first half points. Neither team will be able to run up the score in this matchup, and the winner may be the first team to hit 60 points. Fans of run and gun offense with dramatic runs of long stretches of scoring will most likely see neither in this game.
Points Per Game: Texas Tech (72.6 PPG) EDGE OVER Virginia (71.1 PPG)
Another close matchup, but this one is in favor of the Red Raiders. Texas Tech is led by leading scorer Jarrett Culver who averages 18.6 PPG. Both Davide Moretti and Matt Mooney also average over 10 PPG with 11.4 and 11.3 respectively. Mooney was the hero for Texas Tech notching 22 points in their win over Michigan State. Virginia also has 3 scorers averaging over 10 PPG: Kyle Guy (15.2 PPG), De’Andre Hunter (14.9 PPG), and Ty Jerome (13.5 PPG). While Jerome was the leading scorer with 21 points against Auburn, it was Kyle Guy who ultimately made the 3 biggest shots, all free-throws, to clinch victory. All 3 players also average over 40% from 3-point range. While both teams will have to face tough defenses, there are definitely multiple weapons on both sides to help jumpstart offense.
Rebounds Per Game: Virginia (34.7 RPG) EDGE OVER Texas Tech (34.1 RPG)
Rebounds play a crucial role in deciding a game. A tough offensive rebound can revitalize an offense and grant new life to a dead possession. A powerful defensive rebound shuts down opposing offenses and establishes dominance; limiting a great offense’s trips will greatly deflate their score. Interestingly enough, both Texas Tech and Virginia were beaten in the rebound category in their respective Final Four matchups. Since both teams thrive on defense, it makes sense that each squad values full team boxouts and tenacity on the glass. With dynamic scorers on both sides, properly boxing out and owning the rebound category will be a key factor to observe.
Assists Per Game: Virginia (14.2 APG) EDGE OVER Texas Tech (13.8)
This is basically a push. Both teams differ by such a small margin that they practically are the same. Both teams love to spread the ball around, and it shows as both teams have 3 scorers averaging over 10 PPG. Virginia loves to utilize the entire shot clock and most of the team touches the ball on each possession. They quickly spread the floor and specialize in passing. Texas Tech also moves the ball extremely well and finds the open man efficiently and effectively. Don’t expect either team to stay stagnant or simply fire off quick shots.
Turnovers Per Game: Virginia (9.0 TPG) EDGE OVER Texas Tech (12.4 PPG)
Holding onto the basketball will be a key point of emphasis for both teams. Both defenses are scrappy and dedicated to eliminating opposing offense by pressuring every play. The reason why both teams are facing off in the finale is largely because they both dedicate themselves to shutting down potent offenses. Look for both teams to secure the basketball and try to exploit a difficult matchup by not getting trapped by lockdown defenses.
Tougher Road in the Tournament: Texas Tech EDGE OVER Virginia
This is definitely the most lopsided of all the factors listed. Texas Tech defeated powerhouses like Buffalo, Michigan, Gonzaga, and Michigan State. After knocking off the top two seeds in their region in back-to-back games, they were treated with a tough battle against Michigan State. Virginia was lucky to only have to play one game against a top 3 seed this entire tournament against Purdue. Their other games include wins against Auburn, Oregon, Oklahoma, and Gardner-Webb, all 5 seeds or below. Virginia had the tougher schedule during the regular season playing in the brutal ACC, but Texas Tech definitely had the more challenging schedule to advance this far in the tournament.
Better Story: Texas Tech EDGE OVER Virginia
Virginia is seeking revenge after being the first #1 seed to ever be eliminated by a #16 seed. They also had to deal with being overshadowed in the ACC by powerhouses like UNC and Duke, especially with the Blue Devil’s hyped up freshman trio. So, how could they not have the best story to write? Texas Tech has had to deal with haters and doubters all season long. Virginia was ranked in the top 10 in the preseason polls; Texas Tech was nowhere near the top 25, even after making the Elite Eight last season. They were told that they didn’t have the roster or talent, that Kansas owned the conference, and that they weren’t good enough to sniff tournament success. Even with conference success, they were again doubted to even escape their region. Virginia was selected by 21% of fans to make the Final Four; Texas Tech was chosen by just 2.2%. They have been the underdogs in their last 3 games and will enter the championship as underdogs yet again. Keep doubting, it really isn’t phasing them.
Who am I siding with: Virginia EDGE OVER Texas Tech
The spread has Virginia as just 1.5-point favorites and I couldn’t agree more. I honestly believe this game is a pickem because the teams are almost copies of each other. They have backstories, play tough defense, and love moving the ball. They play slow, methodical defense and the pace will be slow to match their styles. This will be a game that will come down to the wire and ever possession will be so critical. I’m not shocked in the slightest to see both teams here. I picked Virginia to win it all over Michigan, as I coin flipped my runner-up between Texas Tech and Michigan (great pick, huh). I like Virginia’s ability to shoot beyond the arc just a tad more, and they also are more productive from the free-throw line. I think they will benefit from playing from tougher competition all season long against Duke and UNC. Tony Bennett has the coaching legacy in his family, and I believe he will be able to squeeze just enough out of the Cavaliers to emerge victorious. It’s going to be a close one until the very last whistle, and neither team would blow my mind if they emerge victorious.